Since the times gone by, legumes have been a component of meals all over the world. There is enough proof to substantiate that people in South America have used peanuts as well as lima beans for several centuries. Among other legumes, soybeans as well as mung beans have always been a vital element in Asian dishes. In fact, lentils, chickpeas and broad beans are native to the Middle East. This is the reason why culinary using legumes may help to introduce us as well as learn about international gastronomy.
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It is important to note that plants belonging to the legume family have two major features in common. First, these plants yield a single chamber, compressed seedpods that contain seeds. People either consume the seeds or pods; or both. Second, all legumes are able to perform a vital biological process known as nitrogen fixation - that basically improves the quality of the soil or naturally feeds the soil where these plants grow. As a result, legumes like soybeans as well as alfalfa are cultivated rotating them along with other different crops, for instance, corn, which only absorb nutriments from the soil they grow in.
Majority of legumes are annually growing plants that may develop in the form of bushes or vines. The stems, flowers and leaves of different species have dissimilar color, shape and size. The legume pods, containing seeds of different colors, shapes and sizes, develop only after the flowers are fertilized.
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As legumes contain all the nutrients necessary for a seed to sprout into new, healthy plants, they are a wonderful resource of nourishments. Legumes contain rich levels of folic acid, protein, iron, magnesium, potassium, and phytochemicals. However, unlike meat, legumes (barring soybeans) are not total proteins, but they may be used in combination with balancing foods like grains to make sure that a meal is endowed with a total supply of amino acids that are necessary for making proteins. Also, different from meat, legumes contain very less amount of fats, but elevated levels of fiber. At the same time, they are also quite reasonably priced.
As legumes are inexpensive, there was a time when they were regarded as a poor man's food. However, as ethnic gastronomy like the Mediterranean, Chinese and Mexican are becoming increasingly popular, more and more people preferring vegetarian meals, and the documented health benefits of consuming legumes, this perception has become outdated and they are no longer labelled so inferiorly.
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These days, special stores sell very costly 'designer beans', nevertheless majority of the legumes can be bought at the grocery shops and can be incorporated into our meals spending very little money. While purchasing legumes, you should search for those that have a standardized appearance. In addition, it is necessary for legumes to have a profound and nearly polished color. It is advisable that you stay away from purchasing products that are broken, cracked, faded or have a dehydrated look. It is very likely that these legumes have been lying unsold for quite some time.
You have no difficulty whatsoever in storing dried up legume. It is best to keep them in plastic bags or tightly sealed containers, as it will help in retaining their freshness as well as prolong the shelf life of legumes.
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Legumes are marketed in several different forms. You may buy them in the form of intact fresh pods like green beans and also in the form of dried up pods, as in the case of tamarind. While lima beans are a good example of legumes that are sold in the form of fresh seeds, black-eyed peas are an instance of legumes available as dried up seeds. You may also buy them in the form of seed sprouts, as in the case of soybean sprouts or alfalfa sprouts. It may be noted that while jicama and tamarind are theoretically considered to be legumes, actually they are used in the form of a vegetable and a fruit respectively. Legumes which are available as the 'quick cooking' variety, are actually soaked and dried once again prior to packing and, therefore, you need not soak them again before cooking.
If you need many different kinds of legume to prepare a dish, the best thing to do is cook different types of legume separately, as cooking them unvaryingly together is quite a difficult task.
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Dried up legumes and beans, excluding lentils and black-eyed peas, need to be soaked in water at normal room temperature, as it helps in hydrating them once again for a further uniform cooking. Prior to soaking them in water, remove the lentils or legumes that may have shrivelled or become discolored as well as any foreign particle present in their lot. There are different soaking methods and they are subject to the amount of time you have at your disposal. Therefore, you may choose from any of the methods mentioned below depending on the time you actually have.
Slow soak: Place one pound of dried up beans in a cooking pot and cover them with ten cups of water. Cover the pot and keep it in a refrigerator for about anything between 6 hours and 8 hours, or for the night.
Hot soak: Boil ten cups of water in a cooking pot and then add one pound of dried up beans to it. Place the pot on the oven again and bring the water to boil. Then, remove the pot from the oven, firmly cover the pot and keep it aside at normal room temperature for about two hours to three hours.
Quick soak: Boil ten cups of water in a cooking pot and put in one pound of dried up beans to it. Put the pot on the heat and boil the contents for another two to three minutes. Subsequently, cover the pot and keep it aside at normal room temperature for about an hour.
Gas-free soak: Place one pound of beans in a cooking pot, add about 10 cups or more boiling water to it and place the pot on the oven to boil the contents for another two to three minutes. Subsequently, cover the pot and keep it aside for a night. On the following day, about 75 per cent to 90 per cent of sugars that are indigestible and may result in formation of gas in the stomach would have been dissolved in the water.
Once you have soaked the dried beans, rinse them and again place them to a cooking pot. This time, you need to cover the soaked beans with water thrice their volume and include your desired spices and herbs in it. Boil the contents of the pot and, subsequently, lessen the heat and seethe the contents gently. Remove the cover of the pot and stir the contents from time to time till they become softer. While the time consumed in cooking the beans is subject to their variety, normally you need to begin checking the contents after about 45 minutes. In case the water level drops below that of the beans, add more water to the stockpot.
Here are a few additional tips that would be useful while cooking legumes.
Just before the cooking ends and the beans have become softer, you should add salt as well as all acidic ingredients, for instance, tomatoes, tomato juice and/ or vinegar. In case you add these substances very early during the cooking time, they can not only harden the beans, but also slow down the whole cooking process.
You should consider the beans to be completely cooked when you are easily able to mash them using a fork or between your fingers.
If you wish to use the cooked beans afterward, you should freeze them. You ought to soak them in chilly water till they become cool, drain the water out and then freeze.
For the uninitiated, one pound of dried up beans generates approximately five to six cupfuls of cooked beans. In the same way, a can containing 15 ounces of dried beans is equivalent to approximately 1.5 cups of cooked beans after they are drained.